Why the Orioles are the kings of the double play this season

It feels like every Orioles game you watch, the announcers talk about it: The Orioles have had 61 double plays in 57 games in the major leagues, which is 1.07 per game. It’s a statistical oddity for sure, and it’s still unclear what to make of it: it’s a bad thing because it means the Orioles are allowing a lot of baserunners? Or a sign that their infielders could be… good? It feels like you’re walking out of a conversation not sure if someone just paid you a surreptitious compliment or not.

Backhanded or not, I was curious as to what it explains. The only other team in the majors to turn over more doubles games than games: the Colorado Rockies. (Well, they say the ball keeps traveling there – no, not a theory, just kidding.)

So that’s your first clue: both teams are allowing a lot of runners on base. Colorado ranks first in the majors in hits allowed (that is, they give up a lot of hits) and third in WHIP. Baltimore is fourth in hits allowed and eighth in WHIP. No one goes without a lot of walks, but with all the hits, it’s still enough. Both are also bad at hitting hitters: Colorado is next to bottom in K% and Baltimore is next to bottom.

The Orioles and Rockies have almost identical records, but one important difference between the two: The Orioles actually have a pretty good team ERA (4.07) and the Rockies have a lousy (5.20). You could Take from this that the Orioles have a bit of luck with the results as they give out a lot of hits.

Right? Not so fast. Perhaps contrary to expectations, Orioles pitchers aren’t sitting ducks because they prove good at pulling weak contacts from batsmen. Unlike Colorado, which has the worst-hit percentage in the league (33.5%), Baltimore ranks mid-table in MLB at 29.9% in hard contact, behind only New York, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Chicago in the league AL.

The team has, perhaps unexpectedly, transformed into a groundball spinning machine. Baltimore’s 45% groundball percentage is second-highest in the AL with the Yankees, while their flyball percentage is the second-lowest. (In fact, the only flyballs the Orioles give up a lot of are those infield Variety—a sign of weak contact—Baltimore ranks only behind Tampa Bay, Houston, Boston, and New York in this category.)

Driving those high groundball stats for the Orioles, in descending order, is Jorge Lopez with a staggering 80.0%, followed by Dillon Tate (53.3%), Spenser Watkins (48.9%), Keegan Akin (47.2%) ) and Cionel Pérez (46.7%). These are mostly people who have had success this year, and last time I checked, I’d rather give up groundballs than homers.

However, this brings us back to the dubious compliment part. Every time the Orioles infield shoots another double game, the MASN broadcast team seems to beam with pride. Is it deserved?

Unfortunately not. The Orioles cannot be considered good outfield players at this point. They have committed more errors than any other AL team (41 in 57 games) and have the third-worst field percentage (.981). The data suggests that this is largely Rougeed Odor’s fault. I’m not kidding: In terms of defensive runs saved, Baseball Reference sees the Orioles as basically even at first base, with pluses at shortstop and third base thanks to Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías. But they’re essentially viewing second base as a farce, with -5 runs there so far and a -13-run pace all season.

The problem is a lack of range: Fangraphs has the Orioles fourth-worst in AL-in range factor. At least for now. I mean, Odor could improve his performance in April/May: he’s not ancient and he seems to have a great arm.

Anyway, this brings us back to why the Orioles and Rockies stand alone in double plays, and why the Orioles have more double plays than the Rockies, albeit with fewer hits: The Rockies are the worst fielding team in the Baseball if you Consider outs above average (-23). All those batted balls in Coors Field don’t quite turn into outs. The Orioles aren’t great by this metric (-8), but they achieve a lot more of them.

Another statistic fills this picture, and it has to do with the value of the staff in fielding WAR as a unit. A great pitching unit (unfortunately) is that of the Yankees, which is currently worth 10.7 wins over the reserve. A garbage man in Kansas City has 0.4 wins. At 5.0, the Orioles are just above the middle of the pack. With all the injuries this rotation has suffered and with all the dark horses out there, I’m honestly happy to be in midfield when pitching.

So let’s summarize. An inability to hit hitters: check over. Many hits allowed: check over. Lots of ground balls with relatively weak contact: check over. Sometimes you get to these soil balls: check over. Not outstanding, but not offensive either, and it comes with lots of fun highlights. Think of it as Orioles 2022 in a nutshell.

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